Wednesday, June 15, 2011

No Love For The Present?

Since I made the switch from screenwriting to novels, I've discovered that some people don't care for present tense. In fact some people have violent hate for present tense prose. I find this curious. I rarely notice tense when I'm reading and the times I do, it's usually because a book written in past tense has suddenly confused me as to when something is happening/has happened. (That whole, "I'm saying it in the past tense but it's really happening right now" thing hurts my brain.)

I tend to naturally write in present tense. I used to think this was because of screenwriting - scripts are written in present tense. But then one day I was flipping through my old journals and I discovered I've always written in present tense. And that made me think about the way people tell stories. I think in our daily lives, we use present tense much more often than you might think.

I'm sure you've had a conversation that went something like this:

"You won't believe what happened to me today!"


"So, I'm in the store and this guy comes up and is like, did it hurt? And I go, um, what? And he gives me this big cheesy grin and says, when you fell out of heaven? And I was like seriously??"

(Okay, hopefully you don't have conversations like this, but you get the point.) The story was told naturally in present tense because she's sort of reliving it. It makes the moment more immediate. So with this in mind, I am really curious what it is that those of you that hate present tense find so awful about it. I've read terms like "jarring" and "annoying" and I wonder what about it gives you those feelings.


Anonymous said...

I'm not going to be much help discussion-wise, because I'm squarely in your camp—I really like present tense.

Although . . . now that I think about it, whenever I'd write in my journal, it was always this weird kind of past-progressive, where things happened in the past, present, and future. Which, yeah. You don't see a lot of that in fiction.

Ezmirelda said...

Awesome post! I love writing with both tenses. Often I come across comments by readers saying "I hate present tense! Why didn't this author just write it in past" and it kind of irritates me. >_>

Valerie Kemp said...

@Brenna - Yay present tense! My journal is similar in that occasionally I would veer back and forth between past and present. Usually starting in past and then switching to present.

@Ezmirelda - I'm really curious about why people feel so strongly about present tense. It's so interesting to me.

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